Acacia house

Exterior View (south)

For a little over 100 years, the Acacia Fraternity House stood at 138 Gray Ave. On July 30, the house, emptied of furniture and memorabilia, was torn down in just four hours.

Acacia Fraternity at Iowa State is undergoing a $5.2 million project to build a new, state-of-the-art house. The project has been underway since 2013 and is expected to be finished Aug. 1, 2020. Currently, the construction schedule is running two weeks ahead of schedule.

The house had reached the end of its useful life, said Harold Zarr, the Acacians corporate board president. The overall amenities they wanted to have were not possible with the old structure. Zarr said a lot of alums were sad about the teardown, but are getting excited about the project.

Ryan Whitener, the president of Acacia Fraternity and senior in aerospace engineering, lived in the house for almost three years. Whitener said there were so many memories made in the house and he recalled walking into the big oak doors to smiling faces.

“It was just home,” Whitener said. “It was a place where I could feel a sense of community. It felt good to have friends there supporting me.”

Whitener lived in Wilson his freshman year and said the dorms did not have the same sense of community or feeling of home as the house had. He moved around a lot as a child and believes he lived in the Acacia house longer than anywhere else.

Before the house was torn down, the members undertook the task of cleaning the house out. Dressers, beds and a variety of other items were moved into storage.

The most memorable experience for Whitener was taking apart the pool table.

“We knew the pool table was heavy because we would move it around if it was off balance, but when we unscrewed it and took the top off, it was just granite slabs,” Whitener said.

Bed frames were also a challenge when moving out.

“All of the bolts were rusted together,” Whitener said. “[I was] sitting there with a wrench trying to undo those bolts.”

At any given time there were around 20 people moving things out of the house, but the emotional reconciling was the hardest part.

Whitener watched the livestream of the house being torn down through his mom’s Facebook and received photos and videos from his friends there.

“It was kind of surreal, seeing the big claw tearing it up chunk by chunk,” Whitener said.

The last place Whitener lived in the house was the president’s suite. Whitener said it was poetic as it was one of the last pieces torn down.

“It’s such a huge time of change for the chapter,” Whitener said. “Throughout history we’ve been rooted at that house, and all our alumni base has ties to that house.”

The Iowa State chapter of Acacia Fraternity was founded on March 20, 1909. After occupying four different residencies, it settled at its current location on Aug 1, 1940, according to the Acacia Fraternity Iowa State Chapter website.

The house has helped bring the fraternity members together, and now that they are shifting away from it, they hope to focus more on what ties them together as an organization.

Whitener said it is a transition period that allows them to focus on their ideals and build a better relationship with the community through community service.

Many of the members currently live in the Madison apartments.

“We don’t have a home anymore so it’s making the community our home,” Whitener said.

Whitener said they are also focusing on the pillars they stand on as an organization, such as scholarship and community involvement.

Since the beginning, the members have been an integral part of the planning process. The undergraduate members drove the design and the board made sure it met other requirements. In 2013, the undergraduates laid out what they wanted and nine different architectural firms were interviewed.

The fraternity settled on SB & A Architects, located in Ames. The firm went through three or four initial designs with the members before finalizing it.

“95 percent of the design today is what the undergraduate members envisioned at that time six years ago,” Zarr said.

The most heated topic of debate within the chapter for amenities was the milk machine committee.

“There are tough discussions, but I have never seen the active chapter so riled up as when we were talking about the milk machine,” Whitener said.

Whitener said people were up in arms over whether they needed a three spout machine, a two spout, whole milk or two percent, chocolate or strawberry milk. Whitener decided to create a committee that met four or five times.

The new house will have a capacity of 42 men, which is 13 more than the old house. It will also feature a full kitchen along with kitchenettes on each floor, a state-of-the-art Wi-Fi system, a parking lot, video surveillance and a classroom.

When designing the house, the primary concern was academic success. Around 38 percent of the house is designated study and library space that includes whiteboards and TVs for collaboration.

The fraternity set a goal of $3.4 million in alumni donations, and are currently a little bit above $3.2 million. The rest of the funding will be borrowed from a bank.

The chapter currently has 19 active members. With the new building, Zarr said they anticipate having between 50 to 55 in house and out of house members.

Acacia Fraternity at Iowa State has the ultimate goal of raising $10 million to offer full ride scholarships to anyone who joins their fraternity.

“We believe amenity-wise and cost-wise, we’re going to be the equal, if not better, than virtually any other property, including some of the university properties that are available at Iowa State,” Zarr said.

Whitener said the atmosphere of the house is going to be one of the coolest parts.

When Whitener joined Acacia Fraternity, he was invited to a Super Bowl party. While watching the game, Whitener met 15 or 16 different people and hit it off with all of them.

“I never felt so connected to people,” Whitener said. “I’m looking forward to the future members having spaces to facilitate that.”

Whitener said each person did not join because they had a cool house, but because of what the fraternity stands for.

“We're kind of destroying the memories we had, but we’re tearing it down to ash to be reborn, as a new organization, as a new lease on life for our chapter,” Whitener said.

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